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Home News Headlines Descendant of frontier Texas naturalist catches eye of USDA with work in aquaculture field

Descendant of frontier Texas naturalist catches eye of USDA with work in aquaculture field

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Shawn Bishop is following in some big footsteps. He is a direct descendant of frontier Texas naturalist Gideon Lincecum, who first observed and wrote about Texas flora and fauna in the early 1800s. Lincecum corresponded with Charles Darwin about the agricultural ant (more commonly known today as the harvester ant or red ant) and recorded the Choctaw tribe’s language and traditions in the Choctaw’s own language.

Bishop was greatly influenced by his grandfather, Roy William Cabler, who passed along the family tradition of curiosity and respect for the natural world. So it’s not too surprising that Bishop would follow that passion to start Third Coast Horticulture in Austin, a business based on that same curiosity and respect.

Recently, Bishop was named as a recipient of a $95,000 grant from the USDA Rural Development’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program to continue and expand a business dedicated as much to education as commerce. He defines organic as helping people help plants reach their full potential relative to  how they evolved. It sounds like something Gideon Lincecum would have said.

“We see the results now with systems that are drought tolerant, produce better yields and aren’t as susceptible to pests and diseases,” he said.

We don’t know what Bishop’s distinguished forefather would have thought of aquaponics, but Bishop is keen on it, and so are an increasing number of customers; aquaponics accounts for about 60 percent of his business. Bishop also sells hydroponic supplies, but aquaculture is something different. In aquaponics, fish, usually tilapia, are grown in a system along with plants, usually vegetables.

“The exciting thing about it is its capacity for water conservation and space efficiency,” he said during a recent visit to his business. “It uses one-tenth or less of the water of a standard soil garden and takes up one-third of the root space of a 4x12 raised bed. Plus, you grow a protein source at the same time.”

Just as Gideon Lincecum took a circuitous route to Texas — he didn’t arrive in the state until he was 55 years old — Bishop honed in on his passion after several different forays. He studied music composition and physics in college and was a woodworker for eight years. A native of Central Texas, he got involved with small-scale farming and aquaponics in California. Less than two years ago, he started Third Coast Horticulture Supplies.

The products Bishop sells are based on an organic and biological approach to growing plants. He sells potting soil, humus, various meals, soil amendments, worm casings and many other such supplies, and brews a little bit of his own compost tea to sell. He also sells kits and recipes so customers can make their own tea. “We cater to the do-it-yourselfer,” he says.

Bishop got interested in aquaponics after hearing a presentation by Austin aquaponics expert Arturo Arrendondo. With aquaponics, the fish and the plants are grown at the same time within the same system. Naturally occurring bacteria eat ammonia produced by fish waste and turn that into nitrites and then nitrates. The water becomes rich in nitrogen, which allows the plants to grow and serves as a natural water filter in the process. The clean water then goes back into the tank, and the process starts all over again.

Setting up an aquaponics system is not as complicated or time-consuming as it may sound, Bishop said.

“You can make it fairly autonomous,” he said. “Once it’s mature and you achieve the proper balance, it self-regulates. I’d say it generally takes six to eight weeks to get it functioning and six months to a year to get it to where it basically takes care of itself.”

Bolstered by the USDA loan, Bishop’s business is coming into its own. Along with supplies, he offers advice and employs biologist Kevin Cothera, whom he describes as his “right- and left-hand man.”

The educational part of the business is a two-way street, he said. He learns as much from talking to his customers as they learn from him.

“I’ve been blessed by the community. Being here is what keeps me alive. I love being here to shake our customers’ hands and find out what’s on their minds,” he said. “Really, I think my biggest goal is to do something that would make my grandfather and my great-great-great-grandfather proud. I think this is it.”

Third Coast Horticulture is located at 7010 Burnet Road in Austin. The website can be found at www.thirdcoasthorticulture.com

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